Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Federal Express, Fred Smith, became a billionaire by simply revolutionizing the package transport system and consequently creating a new industry. A former marine and Vietnam War veteran, Smith founded FedEx with his own money in 1971. FedEx, the first overnight express delivery, lost $29 million in its first 26 months, so Smith flew to Las Vegas and won $27,000 at the blackjack tables, enough to keep the business afloat. The company now generates $79 billion while serving more than 220 countries and territories.
Since making his mark in the history books, Smith has received numerous civic, academic, and business awards, including the Global Leadership Award from the U.S.-India Business Council, the George C. Marshall Foundation Award, the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Business Leadership Award, and the Circle of Honor Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. In addition, he was cited in Forbes “100 Greatest Living Business Minds,” and was named a top CEO by Barron’s and Chief Executive magazines. He has also served on the boards of several large public companies and on the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Mayo Foundation boards.
Smith's success can easily be traced back to his days at Yale University. In 1962, while attending the college, he wrote a paper on the need for reliable overnight delivery in a computerized information age. His professor found the premise improbable, and to the best of Smith’s recollection, he only received a grade of C for this effort. But the idea remained with him —and continued to grow. Meanwhile, Smith stayed busy with books and social activities. At Yale he became a member and eventually the president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity and the Skull and Bones secret society. It was an elite social group back then. Among his friends included the future U.S. president George W. Bush and future U.S. Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry. In 1966, Smith received his bachelor's degree in economics.
As one of Yale's biggest success stories, it's not a surprise that Smith has maintained relations with the university. Undoubtedly the most shocking news arrived in March of 2021 when it was announced that Smith's company had made a generous $100 million donation to Yale. With the donation, his university is creating a Center for Natural Carbon Capture to lead research into how best to trap carbon found in the air and oceans, including forest expansion and harnessing the power of rock deposits. Previously, Smith has shown support to his alma mater by returning for public events over the years. This includes 2013, during Yale’s 312th Commencement ceremony, when Smith was awarded a doctorate of humane letters for his many contributions and innovations that defined Yale’s spirit of service and excellence. Acknowledging that Smith had first conceived of FedEx while at Yale, University President Richard Levin added proudly, "Your idea shrank the planet."